In Her Hands: A Story of Strength and Survival

April 01, 2016

In Her Hands: A Story of Strength and Survival
by Valerie Esposito and Brian Harmon

Life seemed to change in an instant when Holocaust survivor Esther Bauer was 18. 

One day, she was looking forward to going to college and planning for a bright future. The next, she and her family were being herded with thousands of other Jews into the Nazi-run ghetto Terezin in what was then, Czechoslovakia. 

It was 1942, and Bauer — daughter to a physician and a school principal — was just beginning her three-year struggle to survive as a prisoner in Terezin and later, the extermination camp Auschwitz.

“During our last transport by train, my very good friend decided to flee. She jumped, and all I heard were shotgun blasts. I never saw her again," Bauer, now 92, recalled during a Women’s History Month lecture this week at St. Joseph’s College Long Island.
More than 60 students and community members gathered in the McGann Conference Center to hear Bauer of Yonkers, New York, detail her remarkable story of survival and perseverance during her lecture, “In Her Hands:  A Story of Strength and Survival.” 

Bauer, who had lived comfortably with her family in Hamburg, Germany, said she spent about a year with her relatives packed in a tiny apartment without heat or furniture in Terezin. In the ghetto, Bauer befriended a young man who taught her how to speak Czech and helped find food for her and her family. 

They became very close and eventually got married. Three days later after the wedding, Bauer and her family — including her new husband — were sent by train to Auschwitz, the Nazi’s largest concentration camp in Poland.

At Auschwitz, Bauer and her fellow prisoners were forced to have their heads shaved and were given nothing more to wear than thin dresses and light coats while working 12-hour days of slave labor. She recalled having to sleep on straw beds that were covered in fleas and lice. Meals were nothing more than rotten potatoes or nothing at all, she said.

"The latrines were the worst. It was a wooden slab with many holes that women, men and children had to use at the same time," said Bauer, whose father died six weeks after arriving at Auschwitz.
In April 1945, after spending two years and two weeks in confinement and concentration camps, Bauer was liberated by American troops. 

“We saw the American tank come over the hill and realized the Nazis were gone,” she said. “It was the happiest day of my life.”

Bauer and the other survivors were taken to Austria, where she regained her freedom and began working as a translator in an U.S. Army office. In Austria, Bauer received grim news — that her mother and husband were both murdered at Auschwitz. Soon, she moved back to Hamburg, Germany, and after some time there, a friend who had moved to America invited her to come live with her family.

Bauer came to New York with $5 to her name. She met and married an American soldier, had one son and began working for a publishing company, a career she loved and finally retired from at 73. 

Bauer keeps busy with speaking engagements across the United States and continues to travel back to Germany to give lectures, as well. When asked if she has ever written a book, she replied, “Not yet.”